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Smith v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

January 15, 2016

Timothy Ray Smith, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          THOMAS E. ROGERS, III, Magistrate Judge.

         This appeal from a denial of social security benefits is before the court for a Report and Recommendation ("Report") pursuant to Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) (D.S.C.). Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The two issues before the court are whether the Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence and whether the appropriate legal standards were applied. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends that the Commissioner's decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings as set forth herein.

         I. Relevant Background

         A. Procedural History

         On February 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits alleging disability beginning July 1, 2011. Tr. 10, 140-145. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. at 119-121. On June 6, 2013, Plaintiff appeared at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Ethan A. Chase. Tr. at 58-86. On June 18, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. at 10-20. Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. Tr. at 1-5. Thereafter, Plaintiff brought this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision in a complaint filed on November 6, 2014. (Doc. # 1).

         B. Plaintiff's Background and Medical History

         1. Background

         Plaintiff was 35 years old on the alleged onset date of disability. Tr. at 19. He has a limited education. Id . Plaintiff has no past relevant work at the sedentary level as he has previously worked as a landscaper, a fruit washer, an unloader for a scrap metal operator, and a laborer for an office supply company. Tr. at 19; Pl. Br. at 4. Plaintiff alleges he has been unable to work since July 11, 2011. Tr. at 12.

         2. Medical History

         Plaintiff has alleged disability due to physical impairments related to both his back and hip, as well as problems with his vision. Tr. 169. The record documents Plaintiff's treatment for his various conditions. While the undersigned typically provides a detailed summary of a plaintiff's medical history, such a summary is rendered superfluous in this case because remand is warranted on a narrow issue.

         C. The Administrative Proceedings

         1. The Administrative Hearing

         a. Plaintiff's Testimony

         At the hearing on June 6, 2013, in addition to testimony regarding his physical issues, Plaintiff testified that he went to the 7th and 8th grade, and was in special education classes. He indicates that he cannot read and write, and that he has difficulty understanding things. (Tr. 73).

         Plaintiff's wife also testified that Plaintiff has poor comprehension. He is able to read basic words. However, she testified that when Plaintiff was working, she had to fill out his job applications for him. Plaintiff's wife testified that Plaintiff does not understand his 4th grade daughter's school work, and she (his wife) always has to go with him to doctors because he doesn't understand what they have discussed. (Tr. 78).

         2. The ALJ's Findings

         In his decision dated June 18, 2013, the ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 11, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease (DDD), status post total hip arthroplasty (THA), and loss of visual acuity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CF 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a). The claimant can lift up to 10 pounds occasionally, stand or walk for approximately 2 hours of an 8-hour workday, and sit for approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. The claimant is limited to no more than occasional balancing, bending, crawling, crouching, kneeling, and climbing of ramps or stairs, but can never engage in the climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He should avoid all exposure to heights and hazards, and cannot engage in work that requires driving. The claimant should not work with small objects, fine print, or other objects that require fine ...

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